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Conscious Leadership: How Flunking French Made Me a Better Leader.

This blog is an invitation for us to explore conscious leadership. In my 25+ years of working with business leaders I have observed powerful, predictable patterns, some of which produce amazing outcomes and others that lead to dissatisfaction, plateaus or more serious consequences. For my part I will offer my expertise and observations of people working in business organizations as well as my experiences in the field of self-mastery. You’re invited to find and share in these posts that which is engaging for you and maybe our collective knowledge and practice will enhance the leader in each of us. Let me share a personal story to let you in on how my study of leadership and self-mastery all started. And please, for more details on the professional side, check out the About tab in this blog.

This quest for what I view as “the ultimate powerplay” (results +fulfillment) began when I was close to flunking French at the University of Michigan. As a wise and clever 20 year old I thought it would be interesting to study, not Spanish, a language I had had 4 years of high school training in, but French. Yes, something fresh, romantic, fun. Why not. Didn’t occur to me that every other student in French 101 actually had several years of study in French behind them and the class assumed that to be true for every student. By the time I realized I was way over my head it was mid-terms. What was I going to do? I couldn’t cram for the tests; I couldn’t magically get my mouth to produce sounds my mind had yet comprehended. What was I to do? I tried my very best and got the results I most feared, a “D” as in Devastated. I had to find a better game plan but what?

Now I see that moment as pivotal in my career. Failure wasn’t an option and yet I had reached the limits of my current capabilities. I was getting emotional and that was further clouded my thinking. The teacher and the language lab were only helping so much. Having transferred into this school I didn’t have any classmates to lean on yet and frankly I was embarrassed. So now what?

This was the first time I became aware of something I notice consistently now in business: the arrival of the strategic choice point. Often leaders lack awareness when they are at this point. Or if they do know they’ve hit ‘that moment’- when you don’t know what to do next but something needs to be done – they, like me in those early days, don’t really know where to turn.

Fortunately this uncomfortable yet strategic choice point was actually my launching pad. Through a flyer I found a French exchange student and I took lessons. He made French real for me. When we worked together it was total immersion. I had to start deciphering sounds, gestures, objects and connecting them with words. I was learning the language as children learn their native tongues. We studied at the library but also had meals together, saw movies in French. I walked around campus listening to his seemingly mumbled monologues and I was learning. I heard the rhythm, the tonalities, saw how subtle body movements produced sounds, started to create meaning, making sense. I was learning a new language and gained confidence. Remember my original intent was to study something fresh, romantic and fun? Well long story short, the intention did manifest itself. I was inspired and managed to get passing grades, ‘romantic’ took a whole new meaning when I moved to France after graduation and I started an exciting quest that changed the course of my life forever.

Thinking about such pivotal moments in time can help you understand what shaped your career and leadership. Looking at an example will highlight your decision making, resourcefulness and values. So what about you?



  1. Kathi Joy says:

    Thank you for stopping by.

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